Honourable Chairperson Mr. Michel Camdessus; fellow panellists Rev. Martin Junge, Dr. Catherine Marshall, Ms. Thomas Leysen; ladies and gentlemen;
I thank the Community of Sant’Egidio for inviting me to participate in this important and timely inter-faith dialogue.
THE 20th Century was the bloodiest century in human history. It suffered two World Wars that took a combined toll of 67 million people. It witnessed a holocaust. It saw the b irth of the nuclear age, in which the enormous power of atoms was tested not in a laboratory or a desert, but on two Japanese cities when children were in school or playing, men and women were at work, and the morning sky, bright with sunshine, was suddenly darkened with clouds of death and destruction.
The 20th Century also saw many other wars and violent clashes after the end of the Second World War. In the Indian subcontinent that I come from, the partition of India, which gave birth to Pakistan, resulted in approximately 1.5 million deaths in Hindu-Muslim riots. It also led to the largest trans-border migration of people in human history – almost all Hindus and Sikhs in what became Pakistan migrating to India, and a large number of Muslims in India migrating to Pakistan.
The challenge, as we gather here to commemorate 100 years of the start of First World War, is: Can we make the 21st Century different from the 20th Century and all other centuries in the past? Can we make Peace the Future of Our World, which is indeed the clarion call of this inter-faith and inter-culture meet in Antwerp?
In this session, we are discussing how economy can serve the cause of peace in the future. But we should first understand how economy served the cause of war and violence in the past, and is continuing to do so even in the present. I shall present my views on the subject, which are gained mainly from my study of Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to economics.
Many great humanist thinkers in modern times have preached nonviolence. All of them are worthy of veneration. However, what is distinctive about Gandhi is that his ‘science of nonviolence’ explored, among other things, the economic basis of violence. It also enunciated a new ethics-based and peace-promoting way of economic development consistent with the higher possibilities in human evolution.
Mahatma Gandhi’s prediction in 1908 about the First World War
Today it is widely recognised that colonialism of western nations was the chief source of violence, war and exploitation. Gandhi had not only understood this more than a century ago, but he had also accurately predicted that the colonial powers would turn Europe into a theatre of a catastrophic war. In a prophetic essay titled Sarvodaya (which means ‘Welfare of All’), which he wrote in 1908, six years before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Gandhi had pointed out that the main cause of the war would be the West’s industrialism. This model of attaining economic prosperity for a few at the expense of many had created a limitless appetite for cheap raw materials as well as new markets. Gandhi had said:
“Western civilisation is a mere baby, a hundred or only fifty years old. And yet it has reduced Europe to a sorry plight. Let us pray that India is saved from the fate that has overtaken Europe, where the nations are poised for an attack on one another, and are silent only because of the stockpiling of armaments. Someday there will be an explosion, and then Europe will be a veritable hell on earth. Non-white races are looked upon as legitimate prey by every European state. What else can we expect where covetousness is the ruling passion in the breasts of men? Europeans pounce upon new territories like crows upon a piece of meat. I am inclined to think that this is due to their mass-production factories.”
A lot has changed in the world in the hundred years since Gandhi wrote this indictment of Western imperialism, the most notable change being the end of the era of colonialism. Happily, Europe – at least a large part of Europe – has now become a theatre of peace. If Gandhi were to visit Europe today, he would have been pleased to see a united, peaceful and cooperative continent.
Nevertheless, there has also been a striking continuity. The Western model of economic growth with some variations has spread to most parts of the world. The big and powerful nations’ instinct to aggressively capture sources of raw materials, especially energy resources, near and far, and their equally aggressive attempts to capture markets for their finished products, is very much a part of the commercial culture in the age of globalisation.
New forms of violence generated by a flawed paradigm of economic growth
Here it is important to know that the current model of economic growth has given rise to many new forms of violence.
Even though we have not witnessed, since the middle of the last century, mass killings of human beings on a scale seen during the two World Wars, violence of a different kind – and almost of World War proportions – has struck Planet Earth in this new era of hyper-economic growth. Economic ‘progress’ has resulted in — nay, it has actually necessitated — the most virulent attacks on the environment, the likes of which had never been seen in human history.
Forests, one of the most beautiful and benevolent creations of Mother Nature, have been felled with impunity. Oceans, rivers and other water bodies have been polluted, their effluents often reaching toxic levels and killing countless number of aquatic creatures. Man’s savagery on the other species on Planet Earth can only be described as an unending holocaust. The irony is that other species are being exterminated in the name of the ‘development’ of the human species. Clearly, Nature’s highest creation has turned out to be the worst destroyer of its other creations.
Another new form of violence in the modern era has been the massive disruption of that most basic, civilising, and naturally created institution of mankind: Family. It is in the institution of family that man is most human. It is here that humanising values such as love, mutual affection and care, and cooperation without seeking anything in return from the family, are more freely active than in other areas of social interaction. The laws of modern economics have no place within the family unit because human labour here is non-monetised and freely offered.
Sadly, nuclear family is becoming the norm in more and more countries around the world. This is largely due to the failure of national economies to meet the housing needs of the poor and middle classes in the age of rapid urbanisation. Traditional societies in the past had ensured extension of the caring ethos of the family to neighbourhoods and communities to a substantial degree. This ethos has come under relentless attack by the forces of lopsided economic growth. The rapid disintegration of family and communities has led to atomisation of society. Paradoxically, countries where family and community values have got most eroded are regarded as ‘developed’, worthy of being emulated by the developing and underdeveloped countries!
This degenerative process is no longer limited to countries of the West. Slowly, India and China, two large ancient civilisations, are also following the wrong footsteps of other powerful nations in pursuing consumerism-driven economic growth. The forced separation of migrant workers from their families, the dehumanising living conditions for the urban poor, the separation of ageing parents from their children in middle-class families, the inhospitable and even hostile nature of the urban environment for senior citizens, children and people suffering from disabilities, and the growing scarcity of living space and other basic amenities for all but the rich minority — are all these not manifestations of violence?
For example, healthcare, a basic need and an inalienable right of every human being, now comes with a price tag - and the price tag has made it unaffordable to the common people even in rich countries. Isn’t it systemic violence when the sick go unattended, not for want of medical facilities in the vicinity but for want of money? And isn’t it systemic violence when the undignified and hazardous living and working conditions for a large section of the global population increases their vulnerability to disease and death?
The compulsions of crass commerce have brought violence even into the realm of culture. The function of culture is to refine the higher senses of human beings, enrich human relationships and thus enhance joy in life. However, by converting culture into a marketable commodity, tempting human beings into becoming consumers of this commodity, deadening their capacity for refined aesthetic experience, and reducing joy itself to instant and yet momentary pleasure, the business of mass entertainment has only created an illusion of ‘good life’. Worse still, the giant entertainment industry in the West — and now in India too — which in turn is aped by entertainment businesses run by the westernised elites in other countries, has actually inflicted violence on a huge scale on the diversity of arts, culture, literature, languages, dialects and spiritual traditions around the world.
All these multiple manifestations of violence have caused a moral vacuum and alienation in modern societies. Crime in many new and sophisticated ways (for example, cyber-crime), which has increased in almost every part of the world, is also a form and an outcome of alienation.
There is another, oft-neglected, form of alienation in the modern world caused by the economic and cultural tyranny of industrialism: man’s alienation from mankind’s own past as well as from mankind’s future. Increasingly, we are obsessed only with the short-term considerations and aspirations of our finite existence on this planet — with the ‘here’ and ‘now’. We have little concern either for our ancestors’ expectations from us or for our own obligations towards the generations to come. This has resulted in a cognitive and behavioral disorder in the modern man.
At the same time, old forms of violence – wars of aggression, invasion and occupation, and civil wars – have also continued. In some cases, these acts of violence by states – the so-called War on Terror - have been in response to acts of terrorist violence by non-state groups, inspired by religious extremism and fanaticism. The mass killings of innocent people, the destruction of homes and entire cities, the ruination of places of cultural and spiritual heritage, and the internal displacement and migration of millions people as refugees in their own or alien lands, which we are currently witnessing in the Middle-East, are all a crime on humanity.
Not all the violence that is taking place in Syria, Iraq, Libya and in the Israel-Palestine conflict in Gaza is directly caused by economic factors. Geo-political power play, deliberate and bigoted misuse of religious identities, and suppression of democracy have been the main reasons for the mayhem in the Middle East. Nevertheless, there is one major way in which economics – rather, the economic compulsions of the global armaments industry – has been contributing to these wars, civil wars and violent clashes. The businesses of the world’s major weapons producers have been thriving because of this business of killing.
Truth (Satya) and Nonviolence (Ahimsa):
Gandhian antidote to old and new threats to peace
Does Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Truth (Satya) and Nonviolence (Ahimsa)offer readymade formulas to overcome the multiple old as well as new maladies of the modern world? No. But it does show us the pathways to peace, and these pathways are illuminated by ethical principles that are indispensable for re-ordering not only the economic institutions, but also the institutions of politics, governance and civil society.
None of Gandhi’s ideas are entirely original; they are embedded in all the ancient and modern religious-cultural traditions of the world. As Gandhi himself affirmed: “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Nonviolence are as old as the hills.”
Look, for example, at this pithy but profound Gandhian aphorism, explaining the ‘seven social sins’, which the Apostle of Nonviolence regarded as the roots of all kinds of violence in society:
Wealth without Work,
Pleasure without Conscience,
Knowledge without Character,
Commerce without Morality,
Science without Humanity,
Worship without Sacrifice,
Politics without Principles.
Gandhi firmly believed that money and markets must be married to the imperatives of morality and justice. According to him, the introduction of justice and moral values as a factor to be considered in regulating international commerce was the touchstone of “the extension of law of nonviolence in the domain of economics”. He declared: “Economics that hurts the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and therefore sinful”.
Much of what Gandhi said or wrote about economics negates the foundational principles of modern economic theory and practice. “True economics,” he affirmed, “is the economics of justice”. He called it the first principle of every religion. He also reminded us that all the scriptures of the world, “which we (verbally) esteem as divine” denounce “the love of money as the source of all evil, and as an idolatry abhorred of the deity”. They declare “mammon service to be the irreconcilable opposite of God's service”.
One of the pioneers of the Green Movement, long before environmentalism had become the subject of global concern and a global campaign, Gandhi had exhorted: “Mother Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not enough to satisfy everyone’s greed.”
One of the pioneers of the feminist movement, long before feminism and women’s empowerment had become the subject of a global campaign, Gandhi had affirmed: “If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman.” He said so because of his belief that the law governing human evolution requires the Survival of the Kindest, and not Survival of the Fittest.
One of the pioneers of the movement for nuclear disarmament, he denounced nuclear weapons as “a diabolical and sinful use of science”.
One of the pioneers of Inter-Faith Dialogue, Gandhi not only preached but practised as a matter of his life’s mission promotion of harmony and better understanding among all the religions of the world. His teachings are not unique to Hinduism, the religion he belonged to. They form the bedrock of all religions, and all non-religious humanistic cultural-social traditions, in the world. And he himself studied the basic principles of all religions, and incorporated prayers from all religious in his daily prayer meetings.
Five ideas for nonviolent economic and social progress
Friends, as we mark the 100 years of the beginning of the First World War at this Inter-Faith Conference in Antwerp, it is our duty to look to the next 100 years and beyond and ask ourselves: What kind of a world should we create for ourselves and for our future generations? Should it be a world that repeats the follies, tragedies, mass-killings and other crimes of the past? Or should it be a world that harnesses the moral power it has gained from the past to create a new future – a future without wars and violent conflicts, a future without old as well as new forms of violence, a world based on peaceful and cooperative co-existence among diverse faith-based societies, nations, cultures, civilisations and also altogether new inter-connected communities that are being born in our Age of Globalisation and the Internet Revolution?
The answer is obvious. It is obvious that A Better Future Is Necessary. What is not so obvious is that A Better Future Is Possible. It is our duty to dispel the atmosphere of hopelessness and cynicism by actively creating, through concrete ideas, dialogues and actions, a new atmosphere of hope and faith all around the world.
As the first, foremost and only organisation dedicated to global governance, it is the responsibility of the United Nations to develop, and implement, an agenda for the Next 100 Years for a world without wars and violent crimes. The UN should create this agenda in cooperation with governments, multilateral bodies, religious-cultural organisations and the global civil society. Here I would like to present, in brief, five actionable ideas for such an agenda.
1. Outlaw wars between nation-states
Big dreams need bold ideas and determined collective action for their realisation. Therefore, if we dream of a new future for the human species, a beginning must be made by declaring all wars between nation-states as unlawful and illegitimate. Waging or joining war in self-defence is regarded as legitimate under the prevailing international law. However, the legitimate right of self-defence of all nations in the world can be guaranteed by evolving a new system of bilateral, regional and global security. In any case, the old basis for sovereign nation-states is becoming more and more irrelevant in the age of globalisation and Internet-driven formation of new trans-national communities.
Indeed, the bold and visionary initiative of the European Union shows that sovereignties of nations in a regional block can be pooled without threatening the interests of member-countries or extinguishing their national identities. Several new regional collectives such as ASEAN, African Union, SAARC can enter into no-war pacts.
Since the end of the Second World War, member states of the UN have indeed come forward to debate and sign various peace and arms control treaties, including a treaty to curb proliferation of nuclear weapons. This has happened because of a growing awareness that nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) pose a threat to the security of the world as a whole. Some of these treaties have indeed produced good results, albeit partial.
Now the UN system must be energised to think big and boldly by outlawing wars between nation-states.
2. De-militarise international relations by re-orienting War Economy to Welfare Economy
The global military spending of nearly 1.70 trillion US dollars is one of the biggest moral scandals of our times. This has sustained a war economy that is mostly wasteful and potentially – if more and more countries enter into no-war pacts and arms-control treaties, leading to the UN outlawing war itself – unnecessary. The war economy has also marginalised the welfare economy, not only in poor countries but also in a rich country like the Unites States of America.
I am sad to note here that India, which faces huge challenges in development and people’s welfare, has a military expenditure of close to $ 50 billion. China spends even more. Our other neighbor, Pakistan, also has a huge military budget that drains its resources from people’s welfare. The same is true about many countries around the world. Indeed, big arms manufacturers, and the governments supporting them, have a vested interest in keeping disputes and conflicts alive.
Peace-lovers in all ages have dreamt of beating ‘swords into plowshares’. Realisation of this dream demands a drastic reduction in military expenditures of national governments, especially big powers, and diverting the saved resources to eliminate poverty, hunger, disease and homelessness from our beautiful planet.
War economy, sustained and aggressively promoted by the military-industrial-political complexes in many countries in the world, must be dismantled. As argued earlier, emphasis should shift from national defence to a new system of global security and regional security, based on just dispute-resolution mechanisms.
3. Ban ‘Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction’ that cause 2008-type crises
At the core of the economic and ecological crises in our times is the reigning financial architecture itself, made up of giant banks and financial institutions that have more wealth than the combined GDPs of all the poor countries in the world, private equity funds whose operations are largely non-transparent, and regulatory bodies that have often been found to be weak or complicit. All these organisations are at the service of a giant economic beast whose interests are at odds with the needs of both the common people and the planetary ecology, but which is accountable to none.
This is not normal commerce as civilisations around the world have known and practiced for thousands of years. This is commerce converted into a global casino. And a casino enriches a few and pauperises many. The financial meltdown in the West in 2008, which sent the American and European economies into a series of interconnected crises, is an early alert about much bigger booms, busts, bubbles, recessions, poverty, trade wars, pollution, disruption of communities. Even a multi-billionaire investor like Warren Buffet has likened “unregulated financial innovations” to “financial weapons of mass destruction”.
Therefore the time has come for the world to democratically reform the global financial architecture. The United Nations is the most appropriate platform for spearheading a globally participative and cooperative effort to discuss the design, rules and priorities of regulating global finance. It must attach the highest priority to elimination of poverty, hunger, disease and deprivation, and also to regeneration of the environment, worldwide.
The principle of “affirmative action”, which many governments have accepted under the force of domestic democratic opinion, must be applied in the working of the reformed global financial bodies. In other words, the needs of the least developed nations (LDCs), and also of the less developed communities within rich or emerging economies, should benefit from “positive discrimination” in credit supply, interest rates, investment portfolios, etc.
The new financial and economic architecture should also encourage innovations such as ‘Compassionate Currencies’, ‘Circular Economy’ (which focuses on zero waste and sustainability), Trust-promoting Community Money, etc.
4. Marry Economic Value to Ethical and Ecological Value
It is no coincidence that the root words for ethics (value) and economics (value) are the same. Ethics is about values that guide us to live, and organise, life in the right way. Economics is about creating value through the agency of making and providing products and services that human beings need to live their lives. Therefore, there is an intrinsic connection and a human cognitive command for economics to follow ethics.
This ethic of creating humanistic economic progress must include protection of the priceless ecological wealth of our planet. Indeed, Gandhi had extended the concept of trusteeship – the concept that the rich and the strong in human societies have a moral obligation to take of the poor and the weak - beyond economics to the realm of the environment; human beings, he declared, “are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom.”
In other words, man must become nonviolent towards the natural ecology of which he is an integral part. Homo sapiens must become a reliable trustee to other living species that are cohabiting this beautiful but fragile planet. Like the challenge of nuclear disarmament, this challenge too has become far more pressing in the post-World Wars era. Indeed, the biggest task here is to first heal the wounds man has already inflicted on Gaia, the Greek name for Mother Earth. Science and technology can no doubt serve as the healing agents, but man needs something more — the wisdom to know why he committed the crime of assaulting the environment in the first place, the readiness to repent, and the knowledge to save both himself and the wondrous web of life on this planet.
5. Big powers have a bigger responsibility
A key requirement of Nonviolent Economics is the adoption of the virtue of cooperation, in the place of unhealthy, unscrupulous and destructive competition, in all economic activities. As in everything else, Gandhi placed greater responsibility on big powers (which now includes China and India) than on small and weak nations to promote nonviolence and peace in international commerce. “Great nations (must cease) to believe in soul-destroying competition and to multiply wants and thereby increasing their material possessions”.
This commandment was never more valid than in our times.